`Girlfriends': Don't invite them to stay

Preview: The new UPN show is lewd, crude and stupid.

September 11, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

If you've heard that television is coarsening the culture, but you're not exactly sure what that means, check out "Girlfriends," a new sitcom premiering tonight on UPN.

I can't reprint most of the words featured in this sorry attempt at humor, but I'll do my best to give the flavor. Most expressions relate to the human posterior, which seems to be a particular obsession of creator Mara Brock Akil.

"Girlfriends" is a mindless comedy about four African-American women friends in Los Angeles. They are Joan (Tracee Ellis Ross), a 29-year-old attorney; Maya (Golden Brooks), Joan's secretary; Toni (Jill Marie Jones), a real estate agent who's searching for a rich husband; and Lynn (Persia White), a perennial graduate student living rent-free at Joan's.

As the description suggests, Joan is the center of the quartet. Unfortunately, Ross is the worst actress in the group, given to making strange little-girl faces that have no ostensible relationship to the emotions Joan tries to express.

The UPN press materials make much of the fact that Ross is the daughter of Motown diva Diana Ross. For the sake of the young woman's career, let's hope Mama at least passed on her musical talents.

In the pilot, Joan turns 29, and Toni dates the man who dumped Joan - a foot fetishist named Charles (Jason Winston George). I mention the fetish because it's constantly referenced and twice shown in action during the half hour - once with Joan and once with Toni. Charles is known among the women as "Toe-Sucking Charles," although both Joan and Toni seem to enjoy it.

But that's not the really crude part. That comes later when Toni shows up at Joan's birthday party with Charles in tow. As a warm-up to crude, Lynn asks Maya where her husband is.

"I made the mistake of givin' him some right before I left. He might come by later - if he ever wakes up," Maya replies. She grinds her hips from side to side as she says it.

And then Joan makes her entrance in a tight-fitting gown that looks to be straight out of Mama Ross' closet. As she accepts a bottle of wine from Charles, a little cartoon bubble appears over her head (I'm not making this up) with Joan's face in the bubble speaking directly to the viewer.

"This is where I turn," she tells us, "and he pops a wheelie, because I remind him that all of this booty could have been his."

Then she turns, and the camera zooms in on her posterior for a super-tight shot as she slowly walks toward the kitchen grinding like an exotic dancer on a runway stage. But we're not through yet. The camera stays right where it is until she reaches a table and bends over in an exaggerated fashion to put down the bottle.

And, all the while, men in the audience can be heard whistling and yelling encouragement. The scene makes "Married ... With Children" seem like "Ode to a Grecian Urn."

The Main Event in Crude comes during a cat fight between Toni and Maya, with Toni twice telling Maya to kiss her posterior. The term she uses for that part of her anatomy makes booty downright civil.

There's more, but I'm guessing you get the idea, and the language in the show only gets worse.

I'm not angry at UPN; I've come to expect lewd and crude from the house that "WWF Smackdown!" built.

But I am angry at Kelsey Grammer, of "Frasier" fame, who is one of the co-executive producers of "Girlfriends." With his Emmy-enhanced reputation for witty and sophisticated comedy, he wouldn't be caught dead doing this kind of material himself. Yet, somehow it's good enough for his employees and the UPN audience on a night of four straight sitcoms featuring African-American casts.

One last thing: No, I'm not overlooking cultural differences. Crude is crude, cheap is cheap, and stupid is stupid. And "Girlfriends" is all of that and then some.

`Girlfriends'

When: 9:30 to 10 tonight

Where: UPN

In brief: Lewd, crude and stupid sitcom about four women friends

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